Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry ignites anew as Mack, Cronin trade barbs after postgame incident

Mick Cronin traded barbs with Chris Mack after Xavier’s 89-76 victory over Cincinnati. (Getty)

If the rivalry between Xavier and Cincinnati isn’t already college basketball’s most hostile, it’s rapidly climbing the list.

What other rivalry would end with the two head coaches tearing into one-another in their postgame news conferences minutes after one of them went after a player in the handshake line?

Emotions initially flared in the first half of Xavier’s emphatic 89-76 victory when Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, Musketeers senior J.P. Macura and Bearcats freshman Trevor Moore each received technical fouls for jawing with one another. Tempers then erupted anew in the postgame handshake line when Cronin had to be held back by coaches and game officials after an exchange of words with Macura.

Asked why he was upset after the game, Cronin blamed Macura for instigating the argument with a show of blatant disrespect.

“I’ve never had a kid tell me to ‘eff off’ three times before, during the game and after the game,” Cronin told reporters in Cincinnati. “You know who it was. Same guy it always is every game.

“Where I come from, there’s nothing to talk about. If he was playing for me, he wouldn’t play. He wouldn’t play for me.”

Minutes later, Xavier coach Chris Mack addressed Cronin’s comments in his opening statement, insisting that “there are two sides to the story.”

“There was a reason that their coach was issued a technical in the game. There’s a reason for that. I know the reason because the official told me what happened. So I’m not going to have the narrative be anything other than us playing better than Cincinnati and beating Cincinnati today.”

Mack also took exception to Cronin insinuating that Xavier should have kicked Macura off the team for his past behavior. The intensely emotional, fiercely competitive Macura often trash talks or showboats on the court, most recently when he taunted the Wisconsin student section after the Musketeers’ victory in Madison last month.

“As far as ‘he would never play on my team,’I’m going to go back to 2009-10 when I was the head coach [at Xavier] and Lance Stephenson in front of me, right in front of me, called me the N word three times and said ‘eff you,'” Mack said. “After the game, guess what I did? I shook his hand. I shook his hand. That’s it.”

Of the primary people involved in this incident, Cronin comes out looking the worst based on what we know so far.

It’s fair to blame Macura for his immaturity. It’s also fair to argue that Mack has enabled Macura’s mouthy antics by not disciplining him for his behavior. But Cronin is supposed to be the mature adult here. He should set a better example for his players than trying to fight a 22-year-old in the handshake line.

Cronin also is doing a disservice to Xavier by detracting from its performance in a matchup between two top 25 teams with Final Four aspirations. Were it not for the postgame theatrics, the story would be the Musketeers storming to an impressive victory behind 28 points from Trevon Bluiett and 17 from Kerem Kanter.

The incident between Cronin and Macura comes six years after the rivalry was marred by a vicious bench-clearing brawl between the two teams. Suspensions were issued on both sides and the series was held on a neutral court for the next two seasons.

While the ramifications of this incident shouldn’t be as serious since no punches were thrown, it’s still a reminder of what separates this rivalry from most others in college basketball.

The animosity between these two programs isn’t just between the two fan bases. It also flows through the players, the coaches and even the social media czars.

It’s clear now though that the distaste is strongest between the two head coaches.

Cronin lost his cool and lashed out, Mack stood his ground and stood up for his player and now the already smoldering Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry gets a little hotter.

– – – – – – –

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!